Page 3. " at a roadside dhaba "
Indian Dhaba
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeIndian Dhaba Nataraja, Wikipedia

Dhabas are small local restaurants, commonly found next to petrol stations on Indian roads. They serve simple, local food which is typically inexpensive.

Page 4. " With a pneumatic hiss, the bogies clanked to a halt. "
Satish Kumar India Bogie
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSatish Kumar India Bogie - Credit: Slambo, Wikimedia

A bogie is the chassis to which the wheels of the train are attached.


Page 5. " Prime Minister made a speech on the radio "

Prime Minister Indira Ghandi (1917 - 1984) is never named in A Fine Balance. She was Prime Minister for three consecutive terms, from 1966 to 1977, and was elected for a fourth term in 1980, which she held until her assassination in 1984.

Indira Ghandi was India's first and only female Prime Minister. She was born in India, but studied in England during the 1930s and spent some time in Switzerland in the 1940s, recovering from a lung disease. She returned to India with her husband to be, Feroze Khan, and both joined the Quit India Movement in 1942, which led to their arrest.

In 1967 she initiated a nuclear program, and in 1974 India performed its first successful underground nuclear test. Ghandi insisted the test was for peaceful purposes, but many countries were worried about India's new status as a nuclear power.

Indira Ghandi's time in power was filled with crisis and controversy, not least the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War. The war was triggered by the Bangladesh Liberation war, in which East Pakistan (Bangladesh) gained independence. An estimated 10 million refugees fled from East Pakistan into India, causing financial hardship and instability in the country. The war is a central element of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. Here is Indira Ghandi talking about the situation:


Indira Ghandi lost power in 1977 when the Janata Party was elected. She was re-elected in 1980, but was assassinated by one of her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.

Page 5. " Maybe it has to do with the Emergency "
Indira Ghandi
Public DomainIndira Ghandi - Credit: United States Federal Government

In 1975 the High Court of Allahabad declared that Indira Ghandi had not followed election regulations, improperly using Government resources for her campaign, and so her election was void. This led to widespread demonstrations. To restore order she declared a State of Emergency and authorised the arrest and detention of thousands of people.

Laws were passed that allowed her to rule by decree, essentially making her a dictator.  Civil liberties were suspended and many people were imprisoned without charge and tortured. Large areas of slum and low-income housing were destroyed.

The Emergency ended on March 22nd 1977, when the Janata Party took power.

Page 6. " Murder, suicide, Naxalite-terrorist killing "
The Naxalite Corridor
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe Naxalite Corridor - Credit: Planemad

The Naxalites are far-left radical communists who have been responsible for many violent attacks on the Indian State. They led a violent uprising in 1967, but then broke into several disputing factions in the 1970s. The map shows the districts in which Naxalite movement is still active.

The Naxalites feature in Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger

The White Tiger on Book Drum

Page 6. " they exited the platform together. "


Indian Station
Public DomainIndian Station - Credit: Honzasoukup, Wikimedia


Page 7. " O babu, ek paisa day-ray "

Ek Paisa De De, O Baabu is a song from the Bollywood movie Vachan.

Page 9. " And there would be no smoking or paan chewing on the job. "

Public DomainPaan - Credit: Mohonu
Paan is the tradition of chewing the Areca nut wrapped in Betel leaves.

Page 19. " Once every month, Mrs. Shroff attended her husband's prayers at the fire-temple. "

Parsi Fire Temple
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeParsi Fire Temple - Credit: Pablo Ares Gastesi
The Zoroastrian Fire Temple is a place of worship for the Parsis. Zoroastrianism is the religion and philosophy based on the teachings of the Prophet Zoroaster. Parsi is the word used to describe Zoroastrians who live in India.

Page 24. " But a few days later riots started in the city, in the wake of Partition and the British departure "
Partition of India
Public DomainPartition of India - Credit: McMullen

In 1947, nearly 350 years of British involvement and rule came to an end, as India gained her independence. The British left India split into two countries: Muslim-controlled Pakistan (west and east) and Hindu-dominated India.

The result was chaos. 15 million refugees streamed across the borders and riots erupted. It is estimated that up to a million people lost their lives.

Both countries are still deeply antagonstic towards each other, particularly with regard to their rival claims to Kashmir.